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Exploring the Hidden Costs of Manual Energy Data Collection

December 23, 2019

The Hidden Cost Behind Manual Energy Data Collection

Focusing on sustainability and energy efficiency, the Modern Energy Management podcast invites innovators to discuss energy best practices that go beyond the meter. In this episode, we decided to take a step back and look directly at the meter…and brought in Tim Porter from Urjanet to talk about their approach to energy management.

Tim is the director of partner sales for Urjanet, a company that views themselves as the “plumber of utility data.” With their automated platform that gathers data from more than 6,500 utilities around the world, they provide the data energy professionals need to make decisions, plan for the future, and report results.

A Big Lift

Grabbing and processing data from so many different sources with various reporting formats is no small task. Currently, Urjanet employs hundreds of people whose job it is to create and maintain the data connections on an ongoing basis…ensuring that every stream produced in 47 countries with each of their unique languages and dialects is clean, in order, and continuing to provide useful data to their customers.

Manual Still Dominates

Based on a recent survey conducted by Urjanet, Porter reported a somewhat shocking statistic for anyone in the energy management field: Over half (55%) of respondents to their study said that they are still using manual processes to analyze their utility bills.

Perhaps just as surprising, nearly 32% of those respondents have smart meters. And to make matters even worse, Porter believes that the other 68% of respondents are likely using data that comes with longer intervals than are truly useful in comprehensive energy analysis.

All of this is despite the fact that 67% of them believe that “getting data streams automated, organized and brought into some kind of accessible location” is important to the success of their energy management program.

Hidden Impacts

According to Tim, the first impact of manual data processing is the cost of labor managing the complexity of all the different utility invoice formats. In Urjanet’s analysis, each bill processed manually can cost as much as $11. Additionally, he says, there are human costs…the drudgery and frustrations that come with manual data entry.

The second impact is on data quality. Manual data entry is famously error prone. Even with good tools and processes, as many as one in every 100 data elements has a mistake which translates to an error on every three or four bills that you are entering data for.

Speed is the third problem with manual data entry. When a delay means late fees or even shutoffs, the bottleneck of manual entry can have a big impact on any business. But also, it’s important to remember removing the mail carrier from the equation can also speed up important processes. Building owners and managers who need to process bills for pass-along customers or even regular customers who can’t receive their bills in a timely manner (as happened in the case of a mail processing facility that had to shut down due to a chemical spill), automated electronic delivery is key to keeping things moving smoothly.

Putting Talent to Work

It’s not surprising that most of today’s sustainability and energy management professionals didn’t get into the field to do data entry. Porter believes it’s important that really talented professionals having resources which allow them to do their job is a key component of making teams successful and happy in their jobs.

And it isn’t just how current employees see their jobs. Programs like Urjanet’s can impact how companies are perceived. In addition to significant material cost savings, energy management initiatives and automation make it easier for companies to hire and retain people who are energized and motivated specialists in the space.

Healthy Returns

To illustrate the value of what accurate, automated utility data can do for an organization, Porter spoke about one particular customer in the healthcare field. Starting with a broad goal of saving 20% on energy costs, the healthcare company worked with Urjanet to identify the data they needed to reach their objective.

Using automation, they captured as much data electronically as they possibly could to compare themselves with their peers as well as to understand their own usage. Very quickly, they discovered something unexpected.

With the unique needs of a hospital setting in mind, they found that waiting for monthly data was an untenable situation. By leveraging daily data to make changes based on weather, occupancy and other key metrics, they discovered that each facility could save as much as $4,000 a day on energy usage. With the savings made possible by this new approach, the organization was able to power the equivalent of five hospitals for free for a year.

Move Slow So You Can Move Fast

In the final segment of the podcast, our hosts enjoy asking for words of wisdom from the guest. For Tim Porter and Urjanet, he recommends three things to try to keep it simple.

• Look at interval data to see what insight it might provide your organization

• Leverage automation where you can because there is so much opportunity to gather insightful data.

• “Start slow so that you can go fast”, were Porter’s last words of advice. “Bite off a piece that you can chew and get some early wins and have that grow into the really meaningful, big magnitude savings that are out there.”